“Our Founding Fathers enshrined the Second Amendment for one purpose: survival.Survival of each citizen. Survival of a nation.” With those words as his theme, thelongest-serving head of the National Rifle Association (NRA)–CEO Wayne LaPierre–trumpeted unity for all conservatives going into the 2012 presidential election.
The NRA held its 141st Annual Meeting in April in St. Louis. Over 70,000 membersof the oldest and largest civil-rights organization in America gathered from across thenation. They heard speeches from presidential candidates Mitt Romney, Rick Santorum,Newt Gingrich, and Rick Perry, as well as other political heavyweights, shopped throughover 300,000 square feet of guns and gear, and heard speeches from the officers of themost-feared political juggernaut in America.
The reason for the NRA’s clout is obvious. Gallup reports that the NRA currently enjoysan impressive 68% favorable rating among the American population, a number mostpoliticians can only dream of retaining over any length of time. For comparison, Gallupcurrently has President Barack Obama at 47% approval.
Founded in 1871, the NRA prides itself on being nonpartisan. Among its four millionactive members–and 19 million former members who still describe themselves asmembers, for a total of over 23 million Americans claiming affiliation with the NRA–are millions of Democrats, typically blue-collar union members from key swing stateslike Pennsylvania, Ohio, Michigan, and Missouri. The NRA’s resulting ability to swingvotes in key states strikes terror in the hearts of political candidates who have seen theNRA lay waste to the presidential ambitions of some anti-gun politicians (see: Gore, Al,and Kerry, John).
Some conservatives have at times complained when the storied Second Amendmentorganization has supported pro-gun Democrats. But LaPierre (who throughout the entireorganization simply goes by “Wayne”)–who has led the NRA for an unprecedented 21years–sounded a call for conservative unity around the Constitution on all three legs ofthe Reagan Coalition: economic conservatives, social conservatives, and national-securityconservatives.
Wayne began: “All over this nation, people feel it in their hearts–that something hasgone terribly wrong in our country. In almost every way you look at it, almost everyaspect of American freedom is in some state of decline: Our right to speak. Our right toassemble. Our right to practice our religion. Our right to seek the kind of health care wewant for our families.” The crowd was energetic and attentive, frequently interrupting hisspeech with applause.
He continued with an emphasis on the size and cost of government, calling for: “Theeconomic freedom to earn and spend and save…to own our own homes…to buy thekind of food we want to feed to our children … to raise and discipline our kids…eventhe simple right to fly the American flag.”
LaPierre also pushed back against those who seek to define the NRA as solely gun-oriented, advocating a coalition mindset by saying of these other topics: “Not ourissues, some may say. Oh, but they are. Less freedom anywhere threatens all freedomseverywhere–and don’t think our guns aren’t on their list.”
In an era when some seek to redefine conservatism as only about fiscal policy, to theexclusion of cultural issues, Wayne emphasized: “It’s one thing to undermine freeenterprise and the American economy, but it’s quite another for the president and hisagents to go after our right to responsibly raise our children. Government has nobusiness in that freedom!”
He then pivoted to national security, working off of the NRA’s longtime focus onmilitary readiness (during World War I the NRA worked directly with the U.S. WarDepartment–the predecessor to the Defense Department–to prepare young menfor combat in Europe). Highlighting one of the most recent outrages on this front,LaPierre told the crowd: “President Obama’s secretary of defense, Leon Panetta, visitedAfghanistan a few weeks ago. Before entering a building to hear the secretary speak,hundreds of Marines–United States Marines–were ordered to leave their rifles outside.I know there are a lot of current and former members of the military watching andlistening to this speech. Imagine serving your nation on foreign soil, in harm’s way, andbeing ordered to disarm. ‘Leave your gun outside.'”
LaPierre then moved to the related issue of the border, taking anuncompromising position on border security: “The collapsed border with Mexicohas become a superhighway, not just for hundreds of thousands of violent drug cartelmembers, but for the untold number of terrorists bent on destroying us.”
Wayne put all this in the context of the historical purpose and meaning of the right tobear arms: “The Second Amendment has never been more relevant than it is today. Whenall is said and done, we may have nothing left but our gun rights, but that’s the one rightthat gives us a fighting chance to reclaim freedoms lost and preserve all of our rights, andall of our freedom.” Although some try to make such statements controversial, the realityis it perfectly resonates with the Supreme Court’s recent declaration of the purpose forthe Second Amendment in D.C. v. Heller (2008) and McDonald v. Chicago (2010).
Wayne concluded: “We bow our heads at night, pray for our families and keep ourfirearms close. That is our America. We are the millions of Americans who have foundfaith in the Second Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. We are the millions whounderstand there is no greater freedom than to own a firearm to protect yourself, yourfamily, your community and your nation.”
Although he’s known for stem winder speeches that rally his troops at major politicalevents, this is the broadest I’ve ever seen Wayne cast his net. It evoked the theme ofBenjamin Franklin’s famous caution at the outset of the American Revolution that Iquote in my book Resurgent: “We must, indeed, all hang together, gentlemen, or, mostassuredly, we shall all hang separately.”
In an age where all sorts of conservatives find a common adversary in President Obamaand his far-left allies, Wayne LaPierre’s call for joining forces in common cause was awelcome sound.
Breitbart legal contributor Ken Klukowski is a fellow with the American Civil RightsUnion and a Life Member of the National Rifle Association.